Guilt Is Not Our Friend

We are gifted today with another moving post from hospice chaplain and author Gary Roe. This post on guilt is timely and touches deep with each and every one of us who has experienced the loss of a loved one. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

Guilt is a relentless, soul-sucking monster. Our hearts groan and writhe under the oppression of “What if…” and “If only…”

Two decades had passed since my father’s sudden death. I was sitting in a counselor’s office, agitated and panicky. It was clear I hadn’t really grieved my dad’s passing.

1163141_89340867The counselor looked at me and asked, “So, do you feel responsible for your dad’s death?”

I snickered, and opened my mouth to say, “No!” but nothing came. I sat there in stunned silence.

I did feel responsible.

My mind raced back to a meeting with doctors in the hospital. They explained the situation and then looked at my brother and myself. “We need your permission to turn off the machines,” they said.

I glanced sideways at my brother, who was almost 30. He looked down briefly, and nodded his head. I looked back around, and nodded my head. I was fifteen.

For twenty years, I felt I had ended my father’s life.

Some of us live with crushing guilt. We feel responsible. It was our fault somehow.

“If only…”

“What if…?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe wake up in the morning, and Guilt is there. It says, “Good morning. It’s another day. Let’s begin again with the past – what you did wrong and what you didn’t do right. And just think of all the mistakes out there waiting for you today!”

As we go through the day, Guilt says, “You’re responsible for what went wrong. Let’s go over those blunders again.”

We put our head on the pillow at night, and Guilt says, “Too tired to consider today’s miscues? Not to worry. I’ll remind you of them tomorrow.”

For some of us, Guilt’s voice is so familiar that we’ve mistaken it for our own. It’s greedy by nature and thirsts for control. Guilt hungers to be the atmosphere in which we do life.

It’s time to unmask this soul-crushing villain. Here are four key things to remember about Guilt:

1. Guilt is a monster that will never be satisfied. Left undetected, it will damage our hearts and ravage our souls. If not properly treated, it tends to grow and spread like a virus.
2. Guilt promises, but never delivers. It tells us things will be better if we wallow in it and punish ourselves for what we did or didn’t do. Guilt keeps us from taking appropriate action, like asking forgiveness and making amends. It keeps us stuck spinning in circles.
3. Guilt lies to us. Guilt wants to make us responsible for everything. We mustn’t let it. Let’s take responsibility only for what’s ours. Instead of dwelling on what happened, we can focus on what to do next.
4. Guilt is often misplaced grief. Feeling responsible keeps us from feeling the full pain of the loss, but in the end only lengthens the process. We must let guilt go. It’s time to release ourselves.

Guilt is not our friend. It’s time to kick him to the curb. We’ll be glad we did. (More on how to do that in my next post!).

Gary Roe is an author, speaker, and chaplain with Hospice Brazos Valley. His most recent book, Heartbroken: Healing from the Loss of a Spouse, was an Amazon Top 10 Grief-Loss Bestseller in February. Visit Gary at www.garyroe.com for more resources on grief and healing.

Images courtesy freeimages.com.

Grief in the American Workplace

Today we have another reprint of an article by Judith Johnson. Judith kindly lets us reprint any of her grief and death related posts from Huffington Post. Her articles are always full of information and help for the bereaved. This post is about how grief can affect us at work and the facts she presents us with are amazing. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

Can you imagine “getting over” the death of someone you love deeply in four days? That’s the average paid leave given by American businesses according to “Grief Index: The ‘Hidden’ Annual Costs of Grief in America’s Workplace.” The truth is there is no “getting over” the death of a loved one in either our business or private life. Rather, it takes time for us to find a new normalcy and to restore our ability to function effectively.

Grief can take its toll in all areas of our lives. In terms of the workplace, “Grief Index” provides an eye-opening perspective on the mental, emotional and financial costs of grief incurred by American businesses. It estimates that one in four employees is grieving at any given time. Defining grief as “the normal and natural emotional reaction to the change or end in any familiar pattern of behavior,” the study estimates an average annual cost in lost productivity, lost business and poor performance of more than $75 billion for all grief-inducing experiences. $46.9 billion is attributed to the death of a family member, colleague, friend, or animal companion alone.

ID-1007964Consider the following findings from the “Grief Index” study. Among the 25,000 participants:

  • 85 percent of management-level decision makers indicated that their decision-making ranked from “very poor” to “fair” in the weeks or months following the grief incident that affected them.
  • 90 percent of those in blue collar and other physical jobs indicated a much higher incidence of physical injuries due to reduced concentration in the weeks or months following the grief incident [compared to their ability to concentrate prior to the major loss].
  • When study participants were asked if their reduced ability to concentrate affected them for any period of time beyond any allowed bereavement time, in the case of the death of a loved one, 75 percent indicated that reduced capacity affected them significantly beyond the allowed leave.
  • Asked to estimate the amount of lost days they believe were the direct and immediate result of their reduced focus, 50 percent reported at least 30 lost days in which their value to the company or business was dramatically reduced, and may well have contained significant negative consequences in the form of poor decision making, poor supervisory skills, reduced sales ability and increased workplace accidents and injuries. An additional 20 percent reported being affected for substantially longer than 30 days.

In these stressful financial times, it can be challenging for a grieving employee to acknowledge their vulnerability and loss for fear of losing their job. Yet the denial of our grief in order to carry on as expected is far more dangerous than acknowledging that grief is typically a devastating experience that is best healed with time, compassion and reduced expectations of productivity. When we suppress our grief, it expresses itself in other ways such as depression, anger, addiction, substance abuse and physical illness. Consider a very dear friend of mine, with no prior history of heart disease, who suddenly needed heart bypass surgery just five months after his mother died.

The love that connects us is powerful, profound and for most of us, our most treasured possession. So, when someone we love dies, it is quite normal to be torn asunder. Just as our physical resources are diverted to the healing process after a serious illness or injury, so is our mental and emotional energy redirected to the grieving process or the avoidance of this natural process, whether we like it or not.

Grief is an equal-opportunity employer — whether you are a CEO or an assembly line worker, when you are grieving you are a human being with a broken heart. While there are predictable responses to grief, each of us will have our own unique journey through the grieving process. Grief has a life of its own and cannot be neatly compartmentalized on your calendar.

Until now, we have been living in a culture where grief is largely misunderstood, unsupported and silenced by the taboo against talking about or dealing with death in our country. Grieving has been largely a private matter that isolated us from others. The good news is that things are beginning to change in this regard.

There are more and more grief counseling services being made available. If you can’t find any in your community, consider calling Good Grief Center for Bereavement Support . They offer free support to any part of the English-speaking world over the phone toll free at 1-888-474-3388, as well as through their website. If you or someone you love is grieving, consider taking any of the following actions:

  • Give Good Grief a call.
  • Check out the services of The Grief Recovery Institute — the authors of the Grief Index.
  • Find out if there are private grief counseling and/or support group services available in your community.
  • See if your employer offers any proactive or responsive grief services.

Some of the specific services you might ask your employer about include:

  • Grief education programs or literature for the person who is grieving, their family, and/or business colleagues.
  • Referral services for confidential counseling (paid for or not by the company).
  • A support network of employees/mentors who have faced a similar personal crisis.
  • A flexible conversion plan that allows workers to convert their vacation or personal time to cash, which is then used to offset lost income for co-workers who take time off to deal with a crisis.

If these services are not available through your employer, but you think any of them would be a good idea, suggest them to your Human Services department. Good Grief Bereavement Support also has a program called “Grief in the Workplace” that will work with your company to develop a customized program that fits the culture of your organization.

Remember, grief is normal and if you think you need some help and compassion, you don’t have to be alone in your grief. But you do have to reach out for help. You might be surprised by the resources available.

Reverend Judith Johnson, Ph.D. Judith is a author and interfaith minister. She holds a master’s degree in business administration and doctorates in social psychology and spiritual science. To learn more about Judith, visit her website, www.judithjohnson.com.

For more by Judith Johnson, click here.

Reprinted with permission from Judith Johnson.

Mourning Celebrities in the Social Media Age

The deaths of our loved ones hit us hard. Oddly, the deaths of celebrities we grew up with or identified with in some way may also hit us hard. I recall when Brazilian Formula One Champion Ayrton Senna died in 1994, I could hardly believe it. He was young, handsome, talented and destined for an amazing future. Or so I thought. I admired him tremendously and his sudden death moved me. If he could die so suddenly, so could anyone I knew. The recent deaths of Robin Williams and Leonard Nimoy, both of whom were greatly beloved actors, made me think about how we all react when our icons die. Luckily, Catrina Dennis of MoviePilot.com wrote an amazing article on this very subject. She’s given us permission to reprint it here and it’s definitely an article you’ll all want to read. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

screen-shot-2015-03-02-at-3-15-24-pm-mourning-celebrities-in-the-social-media-ageThe hard hits are rolling fresh and early this year when it comes to the passing of entertainment icons. For the generation that is so often referred to as Millennial, the impactful death of actors, writers, comedians, directors and figure heads from our childhood is still a new, sharp, and painful feeling. With the death of Leonard Nimoy, fans of all ages came together to express their sadness in ways that they couldn’t when other Star Trek greats, including creator Gene Roddenberry, passed away. Now, fans can come together in comment sections, on Skype, and in the real world for support and celebration of the amazing voices that impacted them so heavily. While it sounds wonderful, there’s been a public outcry running for years against the disconnection perceived by others when mourning celebrities on with a hashtag.

But Why Do We Mourn Famous People?

Last week, buried within a sea of sad Facebook posts – evidently, I’m friends with a lot of Star Trek fans – a friend expressed annoyance at the reaction to Nimoy’s passing. “You people act like you knew the dude,” he wrote. In a sense, a lot of us don’t know the public figures that we mourn – we’re not part of their family (save for Nimoy, who decided to take on the role of the world’s honorary Grandpa) and many of us have never shared a personal experience with our idols.

There are two primary ways to look at, and essentially feel about celebrity deaths in the hands of the social media-charged public: as a community joining together to celebrate the life of someone they admired, or a group of people who are completely obsessed with the mysteries of death.

We’re Obsessed with Death

Let’s get the negative out of the way first: according to journalist John Murray, our obsession with celebrity culture can get grim.

“There are three topics that Americans are fascinated with,” he told HLN. “Birth, death and marriages. And we tend to go overboard with all of them. You hear ‘Bridezilla’ stories, you see the paparazzi frenzy over celebrity baby pictures, and when it comes to death, we see people at their best or worst.”

What’s more, with the rise of social media, hoaxes and death scares have become much more common than they used to be:

“We’re so quick to pull out the black veil and tissues. Social media, in addition to giving everybody this place to mourn, it has also killed off countless personalities who are, in fact, still alive.”

Entertainment media is a major culprit when it comes to these situations. When celebrities die, headlines run for weeks. If Vin Diesel so much as thinks about Paul Walker, for example, entertainment sites will scramble to push out a sympathetic headline, because a cultural demand for the exploration of death drives traffic. In a way, it’s two negatives joining together to become an even greater (objectively, at least) negative.

Or: They Genuinely Impact Us

When interviewed about the superficiality of mourning a celebrity’s passing, Newsday’s Joel Mathis had this to say:

It’s easy to sneer at Americans’ celebrity obsessions. If People magazine, TMZ, or US Weekly disappeared from the earth, many of us would feel no small measure of satisfaction.

But count me among the millions who posted “RIP Robin Williams” to Facebook and Twitter this week upon learning of the actor-comedian’s death. Silly? Superficial? Possibly. But here’s the thing: Robin Williams wasn’t just a celebrity – not just somebody known to us through the tabloids and gossip columns: He was an artist.

Regardless of the obsessive or negative culture that shock sites thrive off of, fans are still human, and can still feel a genuine sense of loss when a public figure that impacted them so heavily passes away.

The outpour of emotion at the loss of Robin Williams last year was massive. Williams died abruptly, of causes that were not natural, and the world was not prepared. Arguably, the actor inspired generations of people with his comedy, kindness and his open, honest attitude toward his personal problems. When he wasn’t reassuring us of our self-worth as Mrs. Doubtfire or leading us through a wild jungle in Jumanji, Williams was here in real life, telling those of us that suffer from these problems that we weren’t alone. It is hard to argue that he did not touch the lives of many without ever truly meeting them, and the raw emotion of this loss pans out even to this day.

Artists, musicians, actors and creators serve as inspiration for us in several ways: the characters they play can impact us, make us feel as though we’re not alone in our problems, and inspire us to become more. Much like losing a mentor, when celebrities pass, we feel as though that piece of us has disappeared – and so we mourn, we create memorials in our hearts or on websites and billboards, so that we can preserve the memories we had (but didn’t technically physically share) with our favorite artists.

Social Media, the Emotional Safety Net

Within fanbases, community means strength. A loud and united fan base can pull a show out from cancellation hell, bring a character back to life, and cause actual, social change if it is strong enough. But fandom is much more than this in an age where it’s a click away: we are now directly connected to fans who share the same interests as us, and folks who feel the same way. This isn’t an awkward connection with relatives when a family figurehead dies – it’s a coming together of passionate people who feel united because of the mark that these celebrities have made on their personal growth.

“Psychological research shows that people can form significant attachments to celebrities or public figures they’ve never met,” Steven Meyers, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Roosevelt University told the Huffington Post in 2011.

A few years later, David Kaplan, Ph.D., chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association, elaborated on how we handle celebrity death on social media:

“We are social creatures, we are meant to be with other people when we face adversity,” Kaplan said. “That’s going to mean different things for different generations. It may mean physically being with people … or it could also extend to online. You can get hundreds of people saying, ‘I know what you’re going through.’ And that’s very healing for us.”

Connecting with other fans and sharing that mutual feeling not only makes grieving easier to deal with – it empowers and strengthens communities to do something great.

In response to Nimoy’s passing, fans and fellow celebrities have gone above and beyond to celebrate his life rather than mourn: players of the Star Trek Online game came together on the in-game planet of Vulcan to salute Nimoy, and others took out a billboard in Atlanta in his memory.

via uproxx
via uproxx

Nimoy’s long-time friend and Star Trek co-star, William Shatner, was incredibly distraught about not making Nimoy’s funeral (Shatner chose to attend a charity event instead – something that this author believes the caring Nimoy would have wanted, anyway) and decided to hold a “twitter memorial” for the actor.

ShatnerTweetOver time, grief turned in to a celebration of Nimoy’s life, and fans shared their stories of how he affected their lives. Worldwide fans blogged about how Spock’s personal trials reflected on the pains they felt growing up, the challenges of being a teenager, and even the effect he had on LGBT fans who needed someone to look to for confidence. At the end of the day, Nimoy’s positive influence and undeniable spirit united people from all around the world who were reminded, once more, of those special moments and memories that helped them become who they are.

Does Social Media Help?

Baymax supports Hiro
Baymax supports Hiro

Another fantastic excerpt from The Atlantic’s piece on grief via social media includes wide words from media psychologist Jerri Hogg:

Hogg describes social media as “just the new current tool that connects us with friends and family,” rather than a new behavior. “Is it good? Is it bad?” she asked. “No, I think it is just different. The primary drivers for the behavior haven’t changed. We need to adjust to the new normal.”

It’s not a stretch to say that we are culturally fascinated with death, but the light in the darkness is what happens when these tragedies bring us together. A celebration of a long, prosperous and charitable life can serve to remind us that life is precious, but what they do for us as fans is bring us together as a group. We are reminded once more that we are not alone, and that we are not wrong for feeling as though we have lost someone important.

Catrina Dennis, MoviePilot.com

Article reprinted with permission from Catrina Dennis. You can read the original article HERE. Images courtesy MoviePilot.com.

Grief Walls

Have you ever felt like expressing your loss and feelings of grief, but not where anyone would know who you are? If so, you’re not alone. Many people find it easier to express what they are going through in an anonymous forum. They find it freeing. But where can you go to find that kind of anonymity? Online there many places you can go to talk about grief. At Grief Wall, you can post whatever you want without any identifying information. Today, the founder of Grief Wall, who is of course anonymous, talks about how Grief Wall and it’s companion site Healing Walls began. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

No Grief Wall on Google?

Call me weird. When my father passed away in 2013, once the funeral was over and the grief settled in, the first thing I did was Google, “Grief Wall.” But it wasn’t there. I wanted to express online how much I loved him, how much he would be missed, how grief was so new to me that I didn’t know what to do with it. I wanted to read what others had posted about their own loss. I wanted to connect – not just with my happy friends, but with someone else in the throes of grief right now, like I was. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone, to know what to expect, to learn how others coped, to hear their grief stories.

Instead, all I found were forums. You know, create an account and a bunch of people will try to console you, or maybe even debate with you, and you will feel obliged to respond. Don’t get me wrong, grief forums are wonderful. They just weren’t what I was looking for. Oddly enough, it was 2013, and I couldn’t find a site anywhere on the internet that offered anonymous sharing for the bereaved. So I created one.

Grief Wall – Post Your Feelings Anonymously

griefwallThe Grief Wall offers a safe, anonymous place to post your feelings of grief, loss and bereavement. The site went live on January 23 of this year, and has already had over 2,000 page views and more than 5,000 followers on Twitter in just over 30 days. To provide helpful resources to our readers, the site has its own amazon Grief Store, with specially selected books on grief and loss. Proceeds help cover our costs and fund further development of the Grief Wall.

Perspectives on death, grief and loss can also be found in our Grief Quotes archive. We regularly post new quotes from authors, speakers and well-known personalities. While Grief Wall posts can be very emotional and untamed at times, the quotes archive offers more eloquent thoughts, metaphors and wisdom on what it’s like to journey through grief.

Why the Grief Wall is Helpful for the Bereaved

First of all, in an online world, it’s important to mention that nothing can replace real relationships, and the Grief Wall is not intended to. At the same time, I had lots of friends to talk to, so why did I seek this out? As I ask myself this question, a couple of reasons come to mind:

  • They can’t relate right now. The more I talked, the more the looks on their faces reminded me that they’re not grieving. As much as they wanted to be there for me, the fact that they couldn’t connect emotionally to my grief made me hesitant to say more.
  • I was afraid. What if they don’t understand? Will they get sick of me talking about this? Will I regret sharing this with them? Do I sound negative? Am I being a downer? How will they respond?

The best help I received was from a friend who was grieving like I was. Dennis had just lost his wife when we met for coffee later that week. We wept together as we shared our responses to grief, what we were learning and how we were dealing with it. Later, he texted me a poem he had written about the loss of his wife. Afterwards, we laughed hysterically that to everyone else there, it must have looked like two guys breaking up with each other in a coffee shop. That poem was exactly what I had been looking for. In a way, it was the first Grief Wall post I had ever read. He doesn’t know this, but I still read it.

And I read the Grief Wall, too. I often find myself pulling out my phone and reading what people are posting there. There is something beautiful and captivating about its anonymity. The masks are off. The emotions are intense. The sorrow is overwhelming at times, but it’s comforting, too. I can’t explain why, but it evokes a strange mix of gratitude, inspiration and compassion in me, all at the same time. I catch myself praying now and again for the beautiful souls at the other end of the screen. I am thankful to learn from them, to be reminded of my mortality, and to share just a little in their grief.

Find and Share Grief Wall Posts Like Yours

Another feature of the site is a search box and a Find page, where you can search for Grief Wall posts by category (who someone lost) or by tag (how they lost them). For example, if you have lost someone suddenly and unexpectedly, or from cancer or suicide, you may want to hear from others who did, too. Or, you may want to find posts from those who have lost a father, wife or son and share them with a friend grieving the same loss. This is a great way to say, “I may not be grieving right now, but I just wanted you to know I care, and that you’re not alone.”

Posts are easy to share, with social media and email buttons at the bottom of each one. Even though you can’t comment on posts, we do want you to share them. You may find that when you’re at a loss for words, what someone else has written describes exactly how you’re feeling. If so, you can share it to say, “YES! This is exactly how I’m feeling right now.”

Now that we have launched the Grief Wall, we are turning our attention to other areas of mental health that could benefit from the anonymous sharing we provide. We’ve since created another site called HealingWalls.org. This will be the hub and mental health blog that connects the Grief Wall and other Healing Walls devoted to depression, anxiety, bullying, cancer and more.

To describe the purpose of the Healing Walls in one statement, I would say they exist to show you that you’re not alone. We hope you’ll support us by following Healing Walls on Twitter and sharing our sites and posts with your friends. And we hope to make a difference in the lives of many others out there who are seeking healing through sharing.

You can find the Grief Wall at www.griefwall.org.

The Healing Walls can be found at www.healingwalls.org.

When You’ve Lost A Spouse

Today hospice Chaplain Gary Roe talks about the loss of a spouse. This is something every married or partnered person will experience in their lifetime. If you have experienced the loss of a spouse you can find help not only from posts like Gary’s but also from a host of books available on the subject. Gary’s new book Heartbroken addresses this issue and organizations like the American Widower’s Organization and the W Connection, have informational books, articles and brochures to help you through your bereavement. If you are a widower you can download A Manual to Help Men Grieve from the American Widower’s Organization website or by clicking the title on this page. Widows can download The Myths of Widowhood: A Widow’s Survival Guide from the W Connection by visiting their website or clicking on the title on this page. We hope these books and this post bring some hope into the hearts of those who have lost a spouse. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator.

ID-100111764“I never dreamed anything could be so painful. It’s like my insides are being put through a meat grinder, or like half my heart has been ripped away,” Lorraine said, wringing a dishtowel as she stared into her lap.

Then, looking up into my eyes, she asked, “Where did he go? How could he leave? What am I supposed to do? How am I going to handle this? Who am I now?”

The questions go on and on.

He was your love. She was your partner. Now our hearts are broken. What are we going to do?

When we lose a spouse, it changes everything. They were woven into every nook and cranny of our lives and hearts. Nothing will be the same, nor should it be. The pain is excruciating. The fatigue is immense.

What do we do with all this? How can we navigate this in a healthy way? Is that even possible? Are we going crazy? Will we make it?

As a hospice chaplain, I’ve had the honor of walking with hundreds of widows and widowers through this deep valley over the past decade. Here’s a video about what came out of it:

Our emotions may be all over the map. They can hijack us in an instant. Anxiety, fear, confusion, sadness, anger, and depression are all a part of it. The intensity of our feelings honors the one we lost.

As we grieve, we learn to handle these crazy emotions. We discover that while our feelings are real, but they aren’t necessarily reality. We’re not crazy, but our situation might be.

910278_47990856Then there are all the relationships involved. People will make all the difference in our grief process, one way or the other. Some will be helpful, while others will not. Healthy grieving demands we spend time with those who are supportive and limit our exposure to those who aren’t. Many, if not all, of our relationships will change – partially because our status changed, and also because we ourselves are changing.

And what about the future? It must be remade. Rebuilding takes time, and we learn to trust the answers we need will be there when we’re ready. Until then, the best thing we can do for ourselves and those we love is to invest heavily in our own recovery and healing.

The time will come when we can lean forward. Until then, we move from wing to wing in the hospital of grief, healing as we go. Today is all we have for certain. Today we have life in every breath.

Gary has experienced a number of losses over the years and currently works as a writer, speaker, and chaplain with Hospice Brazos Valley. He is the author of Saying Goodbye: Facing the Loss of a Loved One and Surviving the Holidays Without You. His newest release Heartbroken: Healing from the Loss of a Spouse is on sale through March 5, 2015 at his website and on Amazon. He also writes inspirational articles based on the stories of hospice patients for several newspapers. Visit him at www.garyroe.com.